The blood in my dad’s beard hardly looked real, more red-orange than ruddy, almost clown-like, but terrifying when he stretched his neck tendons and tightened his jaw, his eyes rolling like an animal in distress to show a lot of white, a panicked horse or rabid dog. He was chained to the bed and thumping the wall with his fist for a dramatic boom, and us kids were scared shitless, all boys barely 10, giggling like girls.
The photo album sat in my mom’s eating area in Germany so it was easy to go through but we rarely did; it had an energy (more a weight) because there was so much there to consider: when she captioned the pictures you couldn’t help going back, forced to face all that never got fixed, all that the past presents.
There was my mom and dad dressed up for Halloween with their friends in the kitchen, and now I could tell they’d been drinking by the goofy look in their eyes.
A photo of me at college graduation after my parents split up and dad was with my stepmom Ivanna, no accident she and my mom are on opposite sides of the photo, balancing the boat.
What the American Indians thought about cameras and pictures I don’t really understand but can appreciate. The photos stop you they’re so real, it’s jarring seeing slices of yourself beneath glass like that, a microscope into the soul.
On my walk to the lake it’s just rained all night, and everything’s hanging low and dripping. It was that first morning the spiders all had their webs up, and with the dew it made them sparkle: with the fog and mist over the lake you couldn’t tell the difference between the sky and water, no line separated the two, and I found a dry spot beneath a tree, a place to set my coffee and take it all in.
Dawn says she thinks that’s why her grandmother lived so long, she wasn’t nostalgic, she didn’t dwell on the past, but lived in the present. Whereas her grand-dad lived with a regret that seemed to kill him from the insides — how much time he missed with his kids going off to work, his business — and why Dawn’s mom thinks it’s mostly men who have that sadness because they missed so much of their kids growing up, they just weren’t there.
The time my grandparents visited me in Seattle, the last flight my grand-dad took, and we went to my favorite bar and he bought dinner, and the next night asked if we could go back it was so good — but it’s never the same the second time.
When the fog thins over the water a line appears along the lake and in its reflection an upside-down version of the trees and the docks, the lakefront homes reversed, a perfect copy like a mirror or photo, but you can’t trust it below the surface, it’s just a rendering.
I know it won’t come out right, but I take a picture of the first spiderweb I see going to the lake: the pretty lines in their work, some broken with gaps, each one unique but hard to tell apart, like our writing at times: writers like spiders hanging from the rafters trying to look natural, waiting for someone we can trap.
My mom gets super-nostalgic with the photos, talks in a dreamy voice, tells my birth story over the phone or email every year, but it never bothers me because of her obvious love and the fact no one else can tell it like that.
And that’s why we should tell our stories I think, they make us feel real through the retelling. Though you can imagine the eyes in them move, the photos don’t talk — and maybe that’s what bothered the Indians about them, they give the impression they’re alive when they’re not, they took away something you can’t get back, the present.